Physician-patient communication about dietary supplements

Derjung M. Tarn, Debora A Paterniti, Jeffrey S. Good, Ian D. Coulter, James M. Galliher, Richard L Kravitz, Arun S. Karlamangla, Neil S. Wenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Objective: Describe the content and frequency of provider-patient dietary supplement discussions during primary care office visits. Methods: Inductive content analysis of 1477 transcribed audio-recorded office visits to 102 primary care providers was combined with patient and provider surveys. Encounters were collected in Los Angeles, CA (2009-2010), geographically diverse practice settings across the United States (2004-2005), and Sacramento, CA (1998-1999). Results: Providers discussed 738 dietary supplements during encounters with 357 patients (24.2% of all encounters in the data). They mentioned: (1) reason for taking the supplement for 46.5% of dietary supplements; (2) how to take the supplement for 28.2%; (3) potential risks for 17.3%; (4) supplement effectiveness for 16.7%; and (5) supplement cost or affordability for 4.2%. Of these five topics, a mean of 1.13 (SD. =. 1.2) topics were discussed for each supplement. More topics were reviewed for non-vitamin non-mineral supplements (mean 1.47 (SD. =. 1.2)) than for vitamin/mineral supplements (mean 0.99 (SD. =. 1.1); p<. 0.001). Conclusion: While discussions about supplements are occurring, it is clear that more discussion might be needed to inform patient decisions about supplement use. Practice implications: Physicians could more frequently address topics that may influence patient dietary supplement use, such as the risks, effectiveness, and costs of supplements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-294
Number of pages8
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Dietary supplement
  • Physician-patient communication
  • Physician-patient interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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